On June 23, 2005 the US Supreme Court ruled in Kelo v. City of New London that the city of New London, CT has the right to use eminent domain to take the homes and property of fifteen residents to make room for private developers of a hotel, office complex, and other private businesses. The low/middle income neighborhood, known as Fort Trumbull, is located on the seashore and is coveted by private developers. The decision is the result of years of struggle by area residents to keep their private property. The whole mess started in 1998 when the city proposed to clear the land to get Pfizer Pharmaceuticals to come to New London.
The Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution says that no person shall “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” Eminent domain, the legal tool used to forcibly take land from property owners who refuse to sell it to the government, may not be used unless the land is for public use. Eminent domain has traditionally been used for things like highways, canals, airports, and parks; all of which involve infrastructure used by the public in general. Until now eminent domain has never been used to take property from one private individual for the use of other private businesses or individuals.
The US Supreme Court ruled that creating jobs and increasing the tax base of New London, CT is a legitimate “public use”, despite the fact that the land will be sold to private developers. In a similar case the Minnesota Supreme Court (Walser vs. the City of Richfield) ruled that a successful car dealership had to be removed in to make room for Best Buy to build their corporate headquarters. After all, the land had become too valuable to use as a car lot and the city of Richfield had a higher and better use for the land. Walser Auto Sales, with its property rights virtually stripped by the Minnesota Supreme Court, finally relented. Best Buy now occupies the site.
Now that the US Supreme Court has made this ruling each of us may have our property involuntarily seized, even if a private business wants the land. This is a terrible and (in my opinion) unconstitutional precedent. Property rights must be inviolable in a free society. Unfortunately the US Supreme court has decided that the US Government will protect your right to life and liberty but your private property is now subject to the whim of the next developer who needs your land.
The next time you purchase real estate or land and sign the deed that gives you ownership to “your heirs and assigns forever”, don’t take those words too seriously. The US Supreme Court apparently doesn’t think that property rights are important, even though they are mentioned in the same sentence in Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution as “life” and “liberty”. The founding fathers knew the importance of property. They knew that one cant sustain his life and liberty without the tools for such sustenance; namely property.
It’s tragic that the US Supreme Court has made such a terrible and far-reaching decision. This was another of those 5-4 Supreme Court decisions with the liberal side of the court holding sway. If you don’t think Sandra Day O’Connor’s replacement is important, think again.